Guilty


  Meanwhile, Kennedy's single greatest achievement between 1961 and 1963 was inviting photographers to the Oval Office to take his picture as he posed with his arms folded charismatically or leaning on a desk as if deep in thought.

  John Dean wrote one of the first nearly contemporaneous books of a president, a scathing account of the Nixon White House called Blind Ambition. It was published in 1976—which would have been the last year of Nixon's presidency had he not been forced to resign by a press corps that hated Nixon even more than they hate seniors who don't separate their recyclables properly. Dean's book was widely excerpted, reviewed everywhere, and chosen as a Book-of-the-Month Club selection. In short order, Dean's book was made into an eight-hour mini-series on NBC. This from the people who, according to Bernstein, “had been taken in by the new Nixon.”

  Just as Scott McClellan claimed to have overheard Bush making the shocking admission that he might have done cocaine, Dean said that he once overheard Nixon saying, “The typewriters are always the key. We built one in the Hiss case.” This mind-boggling allegation would be proved a bald-faced lie about twenty years later.

  The “Hiss case” referred to Alger Hiss, the top FDR adviser and accused Soviet spy, convicted of perjury for denying that he was a Soviet agent. As a young congressman Nixon had exposed Hiss by pursuing the testimony of Hiss's former fellow spy, Whittaker Chambers. The crucial evidence against Hiss consisted of some highly sensitive government documents that Chambers claimed he had received from Hiss when they were both spying for the Soviet Union. Chambers produced the documents from a hollowed-out pumpkin in response to a subpoena from Nixon's congressional committee. Though Hiss denied the documents had come from him, the Pumpkin Papers, as they came to be called, were proved to have been typed on the Hiss family typewriter.

  Forced to explain the unexplainable, Hiss expressed amazement on the witness stand, saying he would always “wonder how Whittaker Chambers got into my house to use my typewriter.” The jury laughed out loud at Hiss's excuse—and then convicted him of perjury. But Dean's book purported to confirm Hiss's nutty conspiracy theory by claiming he overheard Nixon saying the “typewriters are always the key. We built one in the Hiss case.”

  Unfortunately for Dean's shocking exposé, decrypted Soviet cables were declassified in 1995, proving that Hiss had been a Soviet spy— even to the satisfaction of the New York Times. Twenty years later, the Dean version of history that had been avidly promoted by the media turned out to be another left-wing hoax.

  There were no tell-all books by former employees of the Carter administration, which makes perfect sense, given Carter's masterful execution of his presidential duties.

  But Ronald Reagan's administration yielded a bumper crop of kiss-and-tell books. In 1984, Reagan's secretary of state, Alexander Haig, wrote Caveat: Realism, Reagan, and Foreign Policy, in which he described the Reagan White House as “ghost ship” where everyone but the president was in charge. Haig cited disagreements over foreign policy as the reason for his resignation. Reagan wrote in his diary that “the only disagreement was over whether I made policy or the Sec. of State did.”

  Perhaps the most prescient of the Reagan “insider” books was budget director David Stockman's 1986 book The Triumph of Politics: How the Reagan Revolution Failed, which beat his second-choice book idea: The Internet Will Never Take Off. Stockman warned that “the American economy and government have literally been taken hostage by the awesome stubbornness of the nation's 40th president,” making Stockman yet another writer who literally did not know the meaning of the word “literally.” Damn that Reagan! What a crafty, mildly retarded, evil-genius, yet senile bad guy he turned out to be!

  After being fired as Reagan's chief of staff, Donald Regan published For the Record: From Wall Street to Washington, in which he revealed—to the hilarity of the media—that Nancy consulted with astrologers before approving Reagan's schedule. This revelation proved endlessly amusing to reporters, most of whom worked for newspapers that carried a daily astrology column. It turned out that she did so only after Reagan was shot and that Reagan's schedulers viewed it as a harmless good-luck charm like Jimmy Carter's favorite sweater or Bill Clinton's lucky condom. The left-wing attack machine was not so forgiving. An op-ed in the Chicago Tribune called the revelations about Nancy's astrology hobby “plain scary.”28 The book was called “shocking,” “devastating,” “explosive,” “spicy,” “controversial,” and “deadly”—and naturally it became a New York Times bestseller.29

  There were also some mostly admiring books by insiders during Reagan's presidency, such as Press Secretary Larry Speakes's Speaking Out, Michael Deaver's Behind the Scenes, and Martin Anderson's Revolution. The only contretemps to come out of these books was Speakes's admission that he had twice invented quotes and attributed them to the president. But even that confession inured to the president's benefit—frankly, it was a relief to know that Reagan had not said of his first meeting with Mikhail Gorbachev, “I believe the world breathes a little easier because we are talking here together.”30

  President George Herbert Walker Bush's administration (remember the good old days when you could mention a president's middle name?) was too acquiescent to liberals to incite the media's rage. One month before Bush betrayed conservatives on his tax pledge, the New York Times ran a major frontpage article declaring: “Grudging Public Thinks Tax Rise Now Must Come.” Not only did an overwhelming 68 percent of poll respondents expect Bush to raise taxes, so it was no big deal, anyway, but, according to the Times/CBS News poll, “8 of 10 people say they would accept increased levies on beer and liquor and on upper-income taxpayers.”31 The pressure was building for Bush to exercise “strong Presidential leadership” as a Times editorial hectored. His irresponsible “Read my lips’ pledge had “softened to ‘no preconditions’ ” and the Times said the “change is welcome.” Finally, Bush was facing up to the “unpleasant fact that real deficit reduction requires tax increases.”32 Having tricked him into raising taxes, thus breaking his famous “no new taxes” pledge, the media didn't need any insiders turning on Bush to help defeat him after one term.

  The one administration that should have produced a cornucopia of kiss-and-tell books was Clinton's—assuming that intrigue, lies, sexual high jinks, and executive office crimes would be considered interesting reading. But there was only one true kiss-and-tell book on the Clinton administration, written by retired FBI agent Gary Aldrich, who had worked in the Clinton White House but was not a true “insider.” Among other tidbits, such as Hillary's cursing out Secret Service agents, Aldrich revealed that the government investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton would not have allowed them a security clearance had they not been the president and first lady.33 The Aldrich book was dutifully squelched by the establishment media, but book buyers still made it a number-one New York Times bestseller.

  Three other Clinton insiders wrote books during his administration, but none were kiss-and-tell books—at least if you don't count Monica Lewinsky, whose most interesting revelations had already been scooped by the Starr Report. The first insider account was a flattering 1997 book by pollster Dick Morris, Behind the Oval Office.34 Morris called Clinton “a great President and a great man” in his book and even said that Hillary was “warm, decent, sincere and sensitive, a tireless crusader for children and an excellent wife and mother.” That's the sort of dirt Democratic presidents have to worry about being dug up on them. According to Clinton groupie Helen Thomas, Morris “was determined to keep his friendship with Clinton.” Apparently, it worked: Clinton acknowledged that he was reading the book.35 This was a long way from John Dean claiming he overheard Nixon admitting he faked the evidence against Alger Hiss or David Stockman writing that Reagan's administration was a failure.

  Another insider report on the Clinton administration was All Too Human, by George Stephanopoulos.36 The book was expected to be “reverent” toward Clinton—in Thomas's words again. But while Stephanopoulos was writing the boo
k, Clinton was impeached. By then, even the media had grown tired of his incessant lies. Consequently, Stephanopoulos played to the only attack machine that mattered and included in his book tepid acknowledgments of the obvious. At the exact moment the media were troubled by Clinton's behavior with the ladies, so was Stephanopoulos!

  The shocking insider information in Stephanopoulos's book consisted of his admission that his first impression of Clinton was of “an overgrown boy.” He also revealed that Clinton's temper was “like a tornado.”37 Helen Thomas had already been bored by accounts of Clinton's temper in Morris's book two years earlier. Recall that Stephanopoulos was the man who had ruthlessly crushed Clinton's “bimbo eruptions” during the 1992 campaign. In the fawning documentary about that campaign, The War Room, Stephanopoulos can be heard threatening a man about to go public with another Clinton sex scandal, calling him “scum” and warning that he would never work for a Democrat again. But for a $2.75 million book advance, Stephano-poulos finally came clean and revealed to the world that … Clinton had a temper! As one book reviewer put it, Stephanopoulos “does not dish much real dirt.”38

  For a Democratic president, however, anything short of a Hallelujah Chorus is a shocking comeuppance. Judging by the reaction to All Too Human, you would think Stephanopoulos had written a scandalous book, maybe accused the president of some grave misconduct, such as attacking Iraq on false pretenses. (Of course, Clinton had a very good reason for bombing Iraq on the day of his scheduled impeachment and, in fact, appeared on the White House lawn a few days later, after his eventual impeachment, to declare, “Mission accomplished.”)39 NBC quoted one former Clinton adviser saying of Stephanopoulos, “Where does he come off ratting on the President?”40 Stephanopoulos himself wrote in the epilogue that former colleagues had told him that “as far as Clinton was concerned, I was now a non-person—my name was not to be mentioned in his presence.”41 Democrats are so accustomed to rave reviews for everything they do that the most meager criticism provokes tantrums.

  The third book by a Clinton insider was not really an insider book at all but rather a policy book. It was Secretary of Labor Robert Reich's Locked in the Cabinet, containing his policy prescriptions on issues like the minimum wage. As it was described by Library Journal on Amazon, “His diary brims with stories about successful programs for the poor, the rage of displaced workers, and the futility of trying to pass legislation on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society. Reich tried to use his office as ‘secretary of little people,’ fighting against corporate greed and the growing chasm between rich and poor by advocating retraining and education programs that would let workers remain productive in a global society.”

  Top that, Deep Throat!

  It would take employees of the George W Bush administration to remind the world what disloyalty to a boss looks like. The resurgence of kiss-and-tell books under Bush was especially impressive when you consider that Bush is a Christian, doesn't drink, and is asleep by 10 P.M. every night. His administration had the fewest scandals of any modern president's, including Reagan's. In fact, the only scandal was that his former employees kept writing books deriding him. While no one can be sure if this is a complete list, there were at least a dozen books written by Bush “insiders” while he was still in office, most of them attack books:

  1. DAVID FRUM, former Bush speechwriter: The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush (January 2003)

  Frum's book was positive toward Bush—one reporter called it a “love poem”—and disputed many of the nonsense caricatures of Bush. Still, it must be disconcerting for a president to read a self-described “minor player” in the White House giving a comprehensive account of the president's IQ and temperament. Frum wrote, for example, that Bush was a “good man who is not a weak man. He has many faults. He is impatient and quick to anger; sometimes glib, even dogmatic; often uncurious and as a result ill-informed; more conventional in his thinking than a leader probably should be. But outweighing the faults are his virtues: Decency, honesty, rectitude, courage and tenacity.”

  That's not an unkind description, but David, c'mon, I've spent more time talking to my gardener than a White House speechwriter spends talking to the president and I don't expect my gardener— Wait. He wouldn't, would he? I'D better check on that….

  2. RICHARD PERLE, chairman of the Defense Policy Board, and David Frum, former speechwriter: An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror (December 2003)

  This book was far from a kiss-and-tell book—it was more of a policy book, rather like Robert Reich's Locked Inside the Cabinet. Except instead of analyzing the fascinating world of minimum-wage laws, it dealt with international Islamofascism. That, in a nutshell, is the difference between liberals and conservatives.

  3. RON SUSKIND, writing with the cooperation of Paul O’Neill, Bush treasury secretary: The Price of Loyalty: George W. Bush, the White House, and the Education of Paul O’Neill (January 2004)

  In the first of the insider hit jobs, Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill criticized not only Bush's economic policy but his foreign policy as well, claiming that Bush and his advisers wanted to invade Iraq as of January 2001. This widely publicized claim posed no obstacle to liberals’ simultaneous claim that Bush thought Saddam hit us on 9/11.

  4. RICHARD CLARKE, former counterterrorism adviser to both Clinton and Bush: Against All Enemies: Inside Americas War on Terror (March 2004)

  Clarke was the chief counterterrorism adviser on the U.S. National Security Council under Bill Clinton, was demoted by George W. Bush, and soon wrote a book saying the 9/11 attack was Bush's fault. As he explained during his sappy grandstanding before the 9/11 Commission, Clarke had warned the White House about everything: “I continued to say it was an urgent problem, … I wanted a covert action program to aid Afghan factions to fight the Taliban, … I suggested that we bomb all of the Taliban and al Qaeda infrastructure … I thought cybersecurity was and I still think cybersecurity is an extraordinary important issue for which this country is very underprepared….”

  COMMISSIONERS: Are you almost finished? We were hoping to get out of here before midnight.

  CLARKE: I warned the White House about a Category 4 hurricane headed for New Orleans, I warned the president not to nominate Harriet Miers, I warned O.J. not to try to bring a gun to get his sports memorabilia back …

  Clarke was nearly moved to tears by his own compassion.

  On Clarke's watch, the World Trade Center was bombed by Muslim terrorists (1993), a U.S. Air Force housing complex in Saudi Arabia was bombed by Muslim terrorists (1996), U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania were bombed by Muslim terrorists (1998), and our warship the USS Cole was bombed by Muslim terrorists (2000).

  In Bush's first few months in office he asked National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice to draft a strategy for going after al Qaeda and killing Osama bin Laden, famously remarking that he was tired of “swatting flies.” There has been only one major terrorist attack on U.S. sovereign territory on Bush's watch, eight months into his administration on 9/11. Maybe Bush should have gotten rid of Clarke sooner.

  5. JOSEPH WILSON, International Man of Mystery: The Politics of Truth: A Diplomats Memoir: Inside the Lies That Led to War and Be trayed My Wife's CIA Identity (April 2004)

  As we all now know—thanks to a massive, bipartisan Senate investigation instigated by Wilson's charges—Wilson was not an “insider” of the Bush White House, he was not an employee of the Bush White House, and, indeed, he was not an employee of any sort to anyone, apart from unpaid, make-work jobs dreamed up by his wife. But since Wilson claimed to be an insider and the media believed it, I am including his book on the list.

  The main impression left by Wilson's book is the image of Wilson furtively locking his bedroom door every night, closing the shades, lying in bed, and fantasizing about the glorious biographies that would be written about him someday. Joe Wilson: the conscience of his age.

  6. JOHN BRADY KIESLING, former Foreign Service officer
: Diplomacy Lessons: Realism for an Unloved Superpower (August 2006)

  Joe Wilson's brief celebrity status must have been galling to other Foreign Service chair-warmers, toiling away in jobs that have been obsolete since the invention of the telephone. One of their own had broken out! He was even being treated like some sort of expert.

  So a couple of years after Wilson's book, a low-level functionary from our embassy in Greece, John Brady Kiesling, released his book, announcing that he too was against the war in Iraq! Kiesling's jacket flap boasts that in February 2003, he “publicly resigned his position as political counselor of the US Embassy in Athens to protest the Bush administration's impending invasion of Iraq.” Isn't that the guy who prepares name tags for embassy cocktail parties?

  By sheer coincidence, also in February 2003, I publicly resigned my position as a Ben & Jerry's “Chunk Spelunker” to protest the ice cream manufacturer's opposition to the impending invasion of Iraq.

  If Kiesling's gripping tale of courage doesn't grab you, the jacket flap also advises that his book discusses “what is possible and affordable in a world Americans share with more than six billion other people.” Kiesling only made this list because his name turned up by complete accident in a search for a different Bush-bashing book. One can only imagine how many random idiots with petty bureaucratic government jobs have tried to resign in protest to get in on the anti-Bush loot.

  7. CHRISTINE TODD WHITMAN, former head of the Bush Environmental Protection Agency: It's My Party Too: The Battle for the Heart of the GOP and the Future of America (January 2005)

  In this book, Whitman's main point is that the Republican Party should dump the Christians and return to the halcyon days when the Republican Party was composed of silly, elitist Rockefeller Republicans. A perennial demand of liberal women who find the Democratic Party too déclassé to join, Whitman's plan is known as Throwing Out the Baby and Keeping the Bathwater.

 
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